Looking at the future of Nashville sports radio and beyond

Considered by many to be the premiere source for sports talk radio in Nashville, 104.5 The Zone has recently seen a huge shake-up to their programming. Last month, the hosts of The Zone’s top-rated show, The Midday 180, declared their final day at the station with a fairly shocking announcement.

Paul Kuharsky (also of paulkuharsky.com), Jonathan Hutton (also of Titans Radio), and Chad Withrow (also of tnhighschoolfootball.com) will be leaving behind the Cumulus Media-owned station — and The Midday 180 name — as they join forces with Clay Travis’s outspoken and sometimes controversial network, OutKick.

The Midday 180 ran for over nine years and was, in my own personal opinion, far and away the best sports talk radio show covering the Nashville scene.

104.5 The Zone has soldiered on with its newer show J-Mart & Ramon in the mornings, featuring Jason Martin — who worked for Travis’s OutKick as a producer and on-air talent — and retired 11-year NFL veteran Ramon Foster, Blaine and Mickey in the afternoons, featuring former Titans safety Blaine Bishop and longtime 104.5 talent Mickey Ryan, and the 3HL in the late afternoons and evenings with Brent Dougherty and Dawn Davenport.

The Midday 180 was consistently ranked in the top three nationally among mid-market sports radio midday shows, according to Barrett Sports Media, with the Midday 180 occupying one of the top two spots alongside Indianapolis’s Dan Dakich over the past few years.

The trio will be joining OutKick’s OTT Network, which is scheduled to launch in March and will carry live video and audio shows as well as podcasts. Unlike traditional radio, the network won’t be broadcast over the FM airwaves but instead will be Internet streamed — it’ll be OTT, or over-the-top, a newer term which specifically refers to Internet-streamed media.

The most interesting aspect to all of this is the listenership. The Midday 180’s podcasted shows were 104.5’s most downloaded for 2020, by far. Take a look:

104.5 The Zone Podcast Stats, 2020 (approximate)

ShowTotal Downloads% of TotalUnique Listeners
Midday 1802.1M60.6%318K
3HL800K23.5%148K
J-Mart and Ramon450K13.4%88K
Blaine and Mickey84K2.5%22.5K

The Midday 180 is continuing to outpace The Zone’s current lineup despite signing off for the final time over three weeks ago. Here’s the 2021 year-to-date download numbers:

104.5 The Zone Podcast Stats, 2021 Year-to-Date (approximate)

ShowTotal Downloads% of TotalUnique Listeners
Midday 18093K39.7%18.4K
3HL60K25.4%13.4K
J-Mart and Ramon53K22.7%11.9K
Blaine and Mickey28.5K12.2%7.3K

Clearly, the Midday 180’s withdrawal represents a gaping hole in the radio market. It begs a litany of questions, among them: who will fill this void, or will it be filled at all?

Will Midday 180 listeners find a new outlet for their morning commutes? Will listeners of all kinds stop tuning into radio, instead preferring the endless multitude of podcast offerings now available to stream at any place or time?

Further, what does a move like this mean for the future of local radio? Given the immense presence held by the Midday 180, it’s fair to wonder, if they can make a move to a full-time streaming platform, why can’t everyone else? At what point does “non-traditional media” become the norm, or even the tradition?

The future of sports talk radio — and, in fact, all media — is online. The content is out there already, with such a limited barrier to entry allowing anyone to pick up a mic and start a podcast. It’s similar to the future of printed newspapers and magazines, which have been steadily moving to online-focused or even video-focused content for a while. And we’ve seen it over the past decade with television shows, too. Just how many streaming services do we really need? Now we have to get Paramount+ too?

Even feature films are trending towards Internet streaming in place of the theatrical experience. HBO Max will be releasing the entire 2021 Warner Bros. slate on their streaming platform (call it the Netflix effect).

Radio is no different. It, too, is headed to the Internet. It has been for years. The podcast numbers listed above make that point quite well.

The audio marketplace is increasingly becoming more and more consumer driven, where content creators can deliver media straight to their audiences without the need for a platform like Cumulus, and without radio stations altogether. Advertisers can pay creators directly rather than using networks to broker deals. And those creators can determine what they want to talk about, or what they’re allowed to talk about, without control or approval from any kind of upper management.

The listenership of that content is who will ultimately determine the success or failure. While content creators have more say, the actual power is in the hands (or ears?) of the listeners. Wherever they go, the money will follow.

So what will happen in Nashville? Will OutKick’s streaming network, equipped with the most popular trio of sports talk personalities, dominate the landscape? Will consumers fall into old habits, tuning into their saved radio stations and trusting that the content will be satisfactory? Or will the void be filled by a series of more niche-based content brought to you by a variety of at-home creators?

The answer is for you the listener to decide.

Comments

  1. When they dropped the Wake Up Zone for JMart it felt like the station was about to pull a WSMV and axe all the top talent that everyone loves. I’ve switched to NPR or podcasts for my drive time radio some time ago. WGFX is out for all things not Titans Radio.

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